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How Do You Prove Discrimination in the Workplace? (With Examples)

To prove discrimination in the workplace, you need to show evidence of disparate treatment compared to others based on a protected characteristic (e.g., race, gender, age). This can include documentation of unfair treatment, witness statements, or patterns of behavior demonstrating bias. Additionally, you may present evidence that an employer’s stated reason for the adverse action is a pretext for discrimination.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

What is Workplace Discrimination?

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, workplace discrimination occurs when an employee or job applicant is treated unfairly or unfavorably due to characteristics such as race, gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin [1].

This can manifest in various forms, including hiring, firing, promotions, pay, job assignments, training, benefits, and other terms or conditions of employment.

Discrimination is prohibited under various federal and state laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which aims to ensure equal employment opportunities for all individuals.

To “discriminate” against someone means to treat that person differently, or less favorably, for some reason. Discrimination can occur while you are at school, at work, or in a public place, such as a mall or subway station. You can be discriminated against by school friends, teachers, coaches, co-workers, managers, or business owners – U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Examples of Employee Discrimination

  • Unfair Treatment: Experiencing unfair treatment due to race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age (40 or older), or genetic information [2].
  • Workplace Harassment: Facing harassment from managers, co-workers, or others based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, or genetic information.
  • Denial of Accommodations: Being denied reasonable workplace adjustments needed for religious beliefs or disabilities.
  • Privacy Violations: Being subjected to improper questions or disclosures regarding genetic or medical information.
  • Retaliation: Suffering retaliation for complaining about job discrimination or participating in discrimination investigations or lawsuits.

Discrimination in the workplace in any form or type is illegal, and the victims can take legal action against it. If you suspect workplace discrimination and retaliation or you know someone who is a victim of it, consulting professional lawyers is necessary.

Proving Workplace Discrimination, Wrongful Termination, or Retaliation

According to KSJM, a wrongful termination due to workplace discrimination or workplace retaliation can threaten your career, family life and finances. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to prove a wrongful termination was due to discrimination in the workplace because the employer may claim “pretext,” or false reason for the wrongful termination [3].

To demonstrate workplace discrimination, wrongful termination, or retaliation, you need to provide evidence that:

1. Unfair Treatment Based on Protected Characteristics:

Show that you were treated unjustly due to protected attributes such as age, race, gender, religion, disability, or national origin. For example, if you are a woman, you are part of a protected class and should be treated equally.

2. Job Performance and Qualifications:

Prove that you were qualified and performed your job satisfactorily. This can be supported by prior performance appraisals, commendation letters, and comparisons with other employees’ work. Collect documentation like performance reviews, work samples, and testimonials from colleagues and clients.

3. Adverse Employment Actions:

Demonstrate that the discrimination negatively impacted your job through actions such as discharge, demotion, poor performance reviews, denial of raises, bonuses, or training, or being transferred to a lesser job.

4. Subjective Criteria in Job Decisions:

Show that job decisions were based on subjective criteria rather than objective, measurable standards. Highlight any inconsistencies or contradictions in your employer’s criticisms, such as prior praise for skills that are now criticized.

5. Pattern of Unfair Treatment:

Provide evidence of a pattern of unfair treatment by comparing your treatment to that of employees outside your protected class. For instance, if male colleagues receive promotions while similarly qualified female colleagues do not, it can indicate gender discrimination.

6. Disagreement with Discriminatory Actions:

Record your disagreement with discriminatory actions or retaliation. Document your accomplishments and reasons for contesting the adverse actions, and file complaints with Human Resources or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Request a formal investigation from the EEOC.

7. Replacement by Someone Outside Your Protected Class:

Prove that your position was filled by someone outside your protected class after wrongful termination. This can be challenging, especially if the company hires another individual from the same protected class, but any such pattern can support your case. By gathering and presenting this evidence, you can build a strong case to prove workplace discrimination, wrongful termination, or retaliation.

How to Gather Evidence of Discrimination in the Workplace

When faced with a discrimination lawsuit, companies often receive guidance from their legal teams. To counter their defense, it’s crucial to work with a skilled attorney who can help you gather substantial evidence. In workplace discrimination cases, evidence generally falls into two categories:

Direct Evidence

Direct evidence clearly demonstrates that discrimination occurred. This can include statements, emails, recordings, and other communications explicitly indicating an intent to discriminate. For instance, an email from a manager stating that you were let go because you don’t fit the company’s youthful image would be direct evidence.

Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence supports facts from which discrimination can be inferred. Rather than directly proving discrimination, it leads a court to reasonably conclude that discrimination likely occurred. Given that employers often train to avoid direct discrimination, much of your evidence might be circumstantial.

Essential Evidence in a Discrimination Case

Membership in a Protected Class: First, demonstrate that you belong to a group protected under the Missouri Human Rights Act. Then, show that your employer had no legitimate reason for the adverse action taken against you.

  • Testimonies: Witness statements from those who observed or experienced similar discrimination can bolster your case. Witnesses testifying on your behalf are protected by Missouri whistleblower laws.
  • Documents: Present relevant documents, such as emails or audio files, that reveal discriminatory attitudes. Records of your employment contract and subsequent employer actions are crucial, especially in cases of wrongful termination, demotion, or unfair compensation.
  • Statistics: Use statistical data to illustrate discriminatory practices against specific groups within the company. Ensure these statistics undergo scientific analysis, with expert witnesses providing the necessary interpretation.

Countering Employer’s Defense

In court, your employer will likely present an alternative explanation for the alleged discriminatory actions. Be prepared to disprove these arguments with strong evidence. For cases involving hiring or promotion, demonstrate that your qualifications, skills, and experience were comparable to those of other candidates.

Working closely with an experienced attorney can significantly enhance your ability to collect and present compelling evidence, strengthening your case against workplace discrimination.

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